Michael Callan: Well, someone had to tell him

Interviewers aren't supposed to be the bearers of bad news, but that was my lot in the spring of 1967 when Michael Callan phoned, as promised, to talk about his sitcom, "Occasional Wife," which seemed certain to be renewed by NBC for a second season. Unfortunately, between the day the interview was scheduled and the day it took place, NBC unexpectedly dropped the ax on the series.

Which is why I was surprised Callan kept our date. And I was even more surprised when it became obvious Callan was unaware his show had been canceled. So it was up to me to break the news. Callan had been around long enough to know how networks operate; he was surprised at the news, but not THAT surprised, if you know what I mean.

We wound up having a nice, albeit brief conversation about the program (which had been one of my favorites), the way networks treat actors, and about his career in general.

Online references to "Occasional Wife" blame low ratings for the program's demise, though it had done fairly well during most of the season. I think the reason NBC pulled the plug, rather than simply change its timeslot, was to pacify several ministers (and their flocks) who objected to the program's premise – a single man finds a woman who'll pose as his wife to help him get ahead at work for a baby food company run by a man who believes his executives should be married. Callan's character, Peter Christopher, agrees to set up his occasional wife, Greta Patterson (Patricia Harty) in an upstairs apartment. She frequently had to make emergency visits to Christopher's apartment, and usually entered through a window off the fire escape. The program was more silly than scandalous, though a segment of the Midwest audience didn't agree.

A co-worker, Bernie, played by the always entertaining Stuart Margolin (Angel Martin on "The Rockford Files"), suspected Christopher's marriage was phony, which set the stage for some of the comic complications. Also appearing in a recurring role was Jack Riley, who played the hilariously caustic Elliot Carlin on "The Bob Newhart Show."

However, what made "Occasional Wife" work was Patricia Harty, who seemed headed for big things. But when the show was canceled she made a dreadful mistake – she agreed to play the title role in "Blondie," a sitcom version of the old comic strip. Will "Sugarfoot" Hutchins played Dagwood. The show was canceled after 13 episodes, which was 12 episodes too many. (In the fall of 1966 I interviewed Harty in Cleveland. I'm still trying to figure out how she missed superstardom. Everything I predicted for her came true for Mary Tyler Moore.)

Callan and Harty got married in real life after "Occasional Wife" left the air. The marriage eventually ended in divorce. Harty dropped out of the business for awhile, then returned as a brunet called Trisha Hart. She became the blonde Patricia Harty a few years after that, but her TV appearances have been few and far between.

Callan's career is the bigger mystery. He started in movies and before he turned to television he had had starring roles in such popular big screen productions as "Gidget Goes Hawaiian," "Because They're Young," "The Interns," "The Victors," "The New Interns" and the classic Western comedy, "Cat Ballou," which earned an Oscar for Lee Marvin.

Marvin and Jane Fonda went on to many more movies and bigger and bigger stardom. Callan went into "Occasional Wife" a year after "Cat Ballou" was released. He has made several TV guest appearances since then, including four episodes of "Murder, She Wrote." He also spent some time on the daytime soap opera, "One Life to Live" in the 1980s.

Patty Duke: Somehow I had a bad feeling

A conversation with Patty Duke in 1965 had me feeling like her big brother or even her father. Since I was neither – and because I didn't know the man in question and most of all because it was none of my business – I kept my mouth shut.

She was in the third and final season of "The Patty Duke Show," a sitcom about lookalike cousins. She was 18, 19, 20 or 21 years old, depending on the source of your information. Patty and ABC seemed to prefer 18, which made our conversation a bit more uncomfortable. The interview was set up to promote her career and her series, but it turned out to be mostly a discussion of her love life.

She was about to marry Harry G. Falk Jr., a 32-year-old director she had met when she was 15 years old. It was then she set her cap for him – forgive the quaint old expression, it's a favorite of mine, though I haven't a clue who came up with it . . . or why.

In describing her history and her relationship with Falk, she sounded like an immature 13-year-old. This marriage doesn't stand a chance, I thought, but, of course, I continued to listen as she rattled on how over time Falk began to see her as a grown-up. His feelings intensified after her program moved from New York City to Los Angeles, and he remained behind to take a job on a Peter Falk series, "The Trials of O'Brien."

"We talked five times a day on the phone," she told me, "and our conversations would last anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours. I'm not saying our bills were huge, but Harry might be marrying me just as an economy measure."

In September 1965 Patty Duke had an appendicitis attack and had to undergo an emergency operation.

"You know the first face I saw when I got back to my room after the operation?"

It was Harry's, of course. He had flown to California after he was told about her illness. He proposed two weeks later while she was recovering at home.

The marriage lasted four years. At the time of our interview I was unaware of many things in her background which might have accounted for her rush to get married. Her father, John Duke, was an alcoholic; her mother was clinically depressed. When Patty was 6, her mother and father separated; two years later her mother turned her over to John and Ethel Ross, who guided her into acting and became her managers. From what I've read, the Rosses treated the girl as their meal ticket and pocketed most of her earnings. She was heavily medicated because, it turns out, she was bipolar. Along the way Patty Duke became a Broadway star in "The Miracle Worker," then went to Hollywood and won an Oscar for the movie version.

At 18, Patty Duke was liberated, then quickly got herself engaged and married. After her divorce in 1969 she married a second time, to rock promoter Michael Tell. This marriage lasted 13 days. Before that she reportedly had an affair with Desi Arnaz Jr., this time reversing the age difference – she was 23, he was 17. Her third husband was the most famous, actor John Astin, who was 16 years her senior. This union lasted 13 years. In 1986, one year after her divorce from Astin, she married drill sergeant Michael Pearce. They moved to Idaho where he became a firefighter and she kept a low profile.

In the 1980s she starred in three short-lived television series, "It Takes Two" (1982-83), with Richard Crenna and Helen Hunt; "Hail to the Chief," in which she played the United States President Julia Mansfield (1985, canceled after seven episodes), and "Karen's Song" with Teri Hatcher (1987, canceled after 13 episodes).

During the 1960s he had a brief recording career. She's still acting, with several Lifetime movies on her resume. She has the look of someone who has survived a lifelong obstacle course. But I remember her best as a lovestruck teenager.



Also . . .
Don Adams Patty Duke Ricardo Montalban
Herb Alpert Richard Egan George Montgomery
Dana Andrews Jack Elam Joanna Moore
John Astin Linda Evans Mary Tyler Moore
Frankie Avalon Pat Finley Ozzie and Harriet Nelson
Barbara Barrie Eric Fleming Hugh O'Brian
Bill Bixby Peter Fonda Pat O'Brien
George Burns Anthony Franciosa Gene Pitney
Michael Callan Annette Funicello Martha Raye
Richard Chamberlain Zsa Zsa Gabor Della Reese
Leslie Charleson Beverly Garland Carl Reiner
Petula Clark Jackie Gleason Barbara Rush
Dabney Coleman Merv Griffin Robert Ryan
Robert Conrad Mark Harman Henry Silva
Bill Cosby Patricia Harty Julie Sommars
Joseph Cotten Marty Ingels Barbra Streisand
Bob Crane Jack Jones The Three Stooges
Richard Crenna Jack Kelly The Supremes
Ken Curtis Dave Ketchum Dick Van Dyke
Bill Dana Sue Ane Langdon Jerry Van Dyke
Bobby Darin Sheldon Leonard Robert Vaughn
Sammy Davis Jr. Jack Lord Clint Walker
Richard Deacon George Maharis Ray Walston
Bob Denver Jackie Mason Betty White
James Drury Raymond Massey Andy Williams
  Martin Milner Henry Winkler